And No Birds Sang

By Farley Mowat

In theory, ‘And No Birds Sang’ should divide its readers: it is a searing and unforgettable piece of personal writing, but it has a reputation for being full of narrative descriptions that might be a little more poetic than factual. However. Mowat was an environmentalist. While most of his writing was in some way autobiographical, his enthusiasm for flora and fauna infused his entire corpus. As he describes the realities of his war, he does so in a style that implores us to have confidence in his reflections about the campaign. He describes the agony and the black humour of the campaign in equal measure; the tedium of daily life and the savagery of the front are balanced with the human, honest reflections on the world around him – and he explores the camaraderie that kept those men together, fighting as a united front. The scene is well-set in the mountains of Sicily, the protagonists are soldiers who know what they must do but are not sure how it will all end. Mowat lets us see and hear that fighting first-hand, using a naturalist’s eyes and ears to build a painful and tragic picture of his experiences.

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